Search for 7 bodies in Dutch shipping accident

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In this photograph released by the Royal Dutch Navy ships taking part in the rescue operation for sunken cargo ship Baltic Ace are seen in high waves late Wednesday night, Dec. 5, 2012. AP

AMSTERDAM — Rescuers gave up hope of finding any more survivors after a cargo ship sank in the frigid North Sea off the Dutch coast, saying Thursday they are searching for the bodies of the seven crewmen still missing. That brings the presumed death toll to 11.

High winds and rough seas hindered the search Wednesday night and it was called off shortly after 2 a.m. (0100 GMT.) Search planes, helicopters and ships were heading to the area to resume the search Thursday morning, but the icy conditions made survival virtually impossible.

“Given the water temperature and the amount of time that’s passed, we don’t have any hope for more survivors,” Peter Westenburg of the Dutch Coast Guard said. Four bodies were found Wednesday, and 13 survivors were rescued.

The 148-meter (485-foot) Baltic Ace collided with the 134-meter (440-foot) container ship Corvus J in darkness near busy shipping lanes some 65 kilometers (40 miles) off the coast of the southern Netherlands. The cause of the collision is not known.

The Baltic Ace, carrying a cargo of cars, sank quickly as its crew of 24 tried to abandon ship.

It was manned by a crew of Bulgarians, Poles, Ukrainians and Philippines, but identities of victims, survivors and presumed victims have not been released. Four of the survivors were flown to a hospital in Rotterdam and seven to a military hospital in Belgium. All are expected to recover.

The Baltic Ace, sailing under a Bahamas flag, was heading from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to Kotka in Finland, and the Cyprus-registered Corvus J was on its way from Grangemouth in Scotland to Antwerp, Belgium. The Corvus J was badly damaged but not in danger of sinking. Its 12-man crew was unharmed and had assisted in the search Wednesday, but Thursday began heading toward Antwerp for repairs.

Sandra Groenendal of the Dutch Safety Board said responsibility for investigating the crash lies with the states under whose flags the ships were sailing — the Bahamas and Cyprus — because the collision happened outside Dutch territorial waters. However, she added it was possible those states would seek Dutch assistance.

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